"Ignoring corruption is the real racism"

The authorities should take action over suspicious goings-on in local elections
Untouched by gentrification: Brune House, Bell Lane, London E1
They say the East End has lost its edge. But walk 30 paces from the old Spitalfields market, with its bankers drinking coffee, and you might almost be back in the days of the Kray twins. Brune House, in Bell Lane, Tower Hamlets, is a Thirties council block untouched by gentrification. The old London of close-knit working-class communities still exists here, though the faces are brown now, not white. The children still play outside; the women are still at home all day; and the people are still controlled by the successors to the old East End bosses, their weapons no longer bicycle chains but questionable votes.

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has warned about “endemic corruption” within some minority communities: Brune House may be the sort of place he meant. Last April, there was a council by-election in this area — a by-election that Lutfur Rahman, the borough’s independent mayor, expelled by the Labour Party for his links to Islamic extremism, badly needed to win. It was indeed won by his candidate, Gulam Robbani. He did well to hold on — the by-election happened only because his predecessor, another Rahman ally, had been jailed for benefit fraud, a difficult start to a campaign.

That was not the only unusual thing about the by-election. Despite heavy rain on polling day, turnout (31 per cent) was amazingly high for a council by-election. In the previous contest in the ward, 16 months earlier, it was 17 per cent. Only 14 per cent of people in Tower Hamlets at the time had postal votes – but 36 per cent of votes cast were postal. And that’s after 135 postal ballot papers were rejected, mainly because of doubts over their authenticity. Robbani won by 43 votes. Several places in the ward saw heart-warming — or perhaps that should be deeply suspicious — explosions of political interest. One was Brune House.

Days before the election, the number of its residents with postal votes suddenly doubled, from 34 to 71. Fifty-five of those 71 votes were cast — an extraordinary 77 per cent. I went from door to door in Brune House. The son of one resident told me: “My mother normally votes down at the polling station but Gulam Robbani supporters came and got her to sign up for a postal vote. After the ballot paper arrived, this girl came and asked her to hand it over. My mum doesn’t speak English — she has no idea she’s not supposed to give her vote.” A second voter in Brune House, Husneara Khanam, said that workers claiming to be for Mr Robbani had collected her and her husband’s vote.

Something else I found there was that other Tower Hamlets classic: a small flat supposedly containing eight adults, all of whom had been given postal votes and cast them. Elsewhere in the ward, dead people were alleged to have voted.

Mr Khan and Mr Rahman categorically denied misconduct. Gulam Robbani refused to comment. But the authorities’ response was the most troubling. The Electoral Commission admitted there had been a “breakdown of trust” in the integrity of Tower Hamlets elections. But it and the police delegated the job of investigating many of the alleged irregularities to the council — in other words, to people working for Lutfur Rahman. Even where the police did knock on doors themselves, they didn’t do it very vigorously.

In one case, according to the commission’s report, “the residents of the property where two postal votes were alleged to have been sent to and returned from… denied that they had applied to vote by post, but would not agree to assist further. While it was possible that an offence may have been committed, the [Met] was unable to substantiate the allegations or identify any potential suspects.”

In another, a property from which two postal votes had been returned “was confirmed as empty by the [Met] investigation. It was not possible, however, to identify any potential suspects.”

It does not appear that the investigators spoke to the most obvious potential suspects, the election candidates. No action was taken, and no action ever has been taken in Tower Hamlets, despite similar allegations year after year.

Mr Grieve spoke of the need for politicians to “wake up to” the problems. He was right. Paralysed by the fear of being accused of racism, the authorities should realise that it’s actually inaction that is racist. They are, in effect, saying that Asian people can have their votes misused in a way that would never be tolerated if they were white.  (Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10468439/Ignoring-corruption-is-the-real-racism.html)

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